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Imagining experiences: Disney’s Mk Haley on the experience economy and the value of diversity

It’s fair to say Mk Haley knows a bit about tech, business, design and finding solutions to things. After all, she’s entrepreneur-in-residence at Florida State University and creative program manager at Walt Disney’s Imagineering, with 25 years of experience as an educator. She’s also been with Disney since 1994, serving primarily with Walt Disney Imagineering in both technical and creative roles with the Virtual Reality teams, R&D, Special FX, Show Quality Services, and Disney Research Labs.  

So, when she says people are more interested in experiences than products, she knows a thing or two about what she’s saying. “People don’t buy a product,” she explains. “They buy the experience around a product.”

In furthering that, the best tech should be able to suit people’s dreams and expectations, she says. “It should be invisible. It’s about the experience.”

Haley was in Wellington this past week, delivering a series of talks hosted by Mahuki, Te Papa’s innovation hub.

The Importance of Story in GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) explored what a story is, and why this is important for visitor facing experiences as well as setting the tone and culture within a team. In her talk The Experience Economy, Haley explored the history of themed entertainment, looking at how creating experiences generates deeper levels of learning and happiness for audiences.

Mk Haley.

But Haley’s also has insights into far more than just tech. Like the need for more diversity in workplaces – and workplaces that suit our working habits and styles. “The guy who invented cubicles went to his graver apologising for it.”

But collaboration isn’t always easy, she says. “Humans are not naturally wired to this. So how you manage collaboration is really important.”

But more diversity can help foster new ideas – including gender diversity.

Haley explains that she once helped mentor a team tasked with trying to come up with ways to sell more pink Florida grapefruit in China. The team, which was composed entirely of males, was unaware that grapefruit skincare products was a multimillion-dollar business.

“One of the guys went to the pharmacy the next day, and he said there was a whole aisle of grapefruit skincare products,” Haley explains. “he was amazed. They never considered it.”

The takeaway, she explains: more diversity is not only better for coming up with new ideas, but also for the bottom line of any business.

Mahuki general manager Tui Te Hau says Haley’s talks presented an exceptional opportunity for people to hear from a world leader in themed entertainment.

“Professor Haley is working at the cutting edge of experience design to enrich and manage visitor experience and maximise commercial returns.”

Haley’s visit to Aotearoa was also supported by the US Embassy New Zealand.

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